16 Jun

From playful to meditative, Graffito Works movers capture the spirit at Shofuso Japanese House & Garden


It was a blistering hot day in Philadelphia as the newly formed Graffito Works dance had its launch at Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Fairmount Park. This new dance platform is the brainchild of Steven Weisz, founder of PhiladelphiaDANCE.org. Weisz, who has managed several “traditional” dance companies in the past, has taken a new direction with a business model that is self-sustaining, compensates its dancers, generates audiences and revenue for its chosen venues, and provides exposure and branding for its sponsors. Working with museums, gardens, and public spaces with built-in audiences, he obtains funds from corporate donors, and then brings together professional dancers to perform mostly improvisational works inspired by the settings in which they’re dancing.

After a brief introduction by Weisz, movers Asimina Chremos and Loren Groenendaal began their methodical and undulating movements while lying on the steps adjacent to the pond as the Shofuso koi fish did their own dance in the background. Their bodies juxtaposed to the water and the fish blended as one. Meanwhile, looking out across the pond from the steps, dancers Jenny Sawyer, Marion Ramierez and Megan Mazrick began their movements on a bed of pine needles blanketed between several large trees. They randomly appeared and disappeared in to the landscape.

Photo by Bill Herbert.

As improvisation musician, Julius Masri began playing on a steel lap guitar from one corner of the Japanese house, Beau Hancock and JungWoong Kim appeared on the rocks edge flanking the water and directly to an on looking audience sitting on the porch of the house. Kim had been tasked as the project coordinator for this performance, setting the structure or “score” for the improvisation. They are eventually joined by all the dancers, working in trios and duets with movement that is both meditative yet playful. At times, they are “audience like”, gazing out and reflecting on the beauty of the grounds, then simultaneously switching to movement that mimicked a child discovering nature as Ramirez and Sawyer playful skipped through the space. A brief solo by Groenendaal off to one side captured our imaginations as her arm movements blended with the landscapes in the background.

On cue, the dancers moved towards a large and sharply slopped hill adjacent to the house. Here they appeared and disappeared magically over the horizon. As they quickly came over the hill, they landed and slid, rolled and fell flat on the grassy slopes. At times, caught up in their own playfulness, laughter would ensue and the audience joined with them. It made us recall the times as kids and the fun we had rolling fearlessly down hills. Over and over they would roll, climb back up the hill and vanish in to the landscape. Then one by one the moved off across the horizon to the waterfall.

Here seemingly exhausted from their antics in the heat, they paused to refresh in the water, cool down and regain their composure. The stillness of the movement against the Japanese pagoda and rock waterfall was reminiscent of an impressionist painting. Occasionally a dancer would scoop their hands in the water and allow it to gently cascade upon them. While blowing in to leaves and making whistling noises, the dancers one by one began to make their way around the entire perimeter of Shofuso. At times their colorful costumes would dramatically appear among the landscape and then blend back in to the background. They eventually made their way to a wooden bridge that crossed to small island with a single bonsai like tree.

Each dancer approached the bridge in a unique way. Sawyer stopped, leaning over the edge with a sweep of her arm and seeming to direct the movement of the koi fish below before making the final crossing. All of the dancers gathered on the island, at times resting on the rocks and then moving in pairs with different facings until joined by more and more of the group. All together they moved and paused in different directions of the island until coming to their final resting place.

In those final reflective moments, Graffito Works had captured the beauty, spirit and gentleness that is Shofuso. [Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Horticultural and Lansdowne Drives] June 14, 2015; japanesehouse.org.

11 Jun

Huffington Post – Graffito Works Launches in Philadelphia


by Lew Whittington

A dozen of Philadelphia’s most accomplished and experimental dance artists have joined Graffito Works; a new company formed by New York-Philly based artistic director Steven Weisz and is his most ambitious dance project yet.

Graffito Works launched this month at Grounds For Sculpture gallery in Hamilton, NJ and at the Japanese Gardens in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. After the debut at the gallery Weisz, talked about his dancers and the international dance project behind it.

The word Graffito literally means ‘little scribbles’ and the company will perform improvisational dance and music at carefully chosen venues. 2015-06-10-1433953874-7730710-huffington31.jpg@photos by Bill Hebert; sculptures by Robert Lobe: In The Forest of Drawn Metal
All taken at Grounds For Sculpture

” For me improvisational dance has always been something magical. A fleeting moment in time, what’s created is unique in that moment and never seen again,” Weisz explained after the debut performance at Grounds for Sculpture. “How the dancers interact, that give and take, the collaborative spontaneity, is thrilling. ”

“Most dancers will tell you they have experience with improvisation. I was looking to find dancers who specialized in it as a vital area of contemporary dance. So the field narrowed very quicker. So each of the ‘movers’, as I prefer to call them, have their own companies, their own projects and are traveling around the world doing various dance projects.”

Weisz has tracked some the re-emerging trends in improvisational dance in Europe, touring his previous company there two years ago. “I decided to create something similar in Philadelphia, but with an international aspect to it.”

Younger choreographers are using the techniques and methods of dance improv even with ballet companies as a way to bring something more energized and organic to their work.

Many of the dancers have been at the forefront of the independent dance companies and collaborators in Philadelphia dance community for many years. “We discuss the concept for a particular venue or event. Rehearsals are minimal,” the concept is similar to seasoned jazz musicians who get together and just play. The magic is in the creative moment and movement. 2015-06-10-1433958431-7160983-huffington21.jpg

Graffito Works’ roster of PHILADELPHIA MOVERS are Asimina Chremos, Lee Fogel, Meg Foley – Loren Groenendaal,  Beau Hancock,  Adam Kerbel, JungWoong Kim, Julius Masri,  Megan Mazarick,   Marion Ramirez,  Jenny Sawyer  and  Zornitsa Stoyanova .

Composer- musician Julius Masri will also be also be creating the music during the performances. “You can’t just walk into a place and let it be a free for all. One of the performers becomes a project director for each venue or site, to create the framework of what we are doing.” Weisz’ emphasized is an across the board collaborative venture in which he encourages dancer-choreographers “to create within that Graffito framework.”

Graffito Works will have satellite companies debuting in Italy and Toronto later this year and in Brazil in 2016. In each locale, Weisz will collaborate with dancers from those countries working in improvisational performance. 2015-06-10-1433953967-5071768-huffington1.jpg

“There is a freedom in what they do, a childlike liberation” Part of the risk of improv, Weisz acknowledges “Sometimes it clicks, but part of any performance is knowing that sometimes it doesn’t gel. At their level, it’s never bad, but sometimes things don’t come completely together. What’s fascinating to me is the way these movers dissect afterward what transpired and take that to the next level.”

Weisz wanted to build a new company model going forward. Graffito Works runs per project by finding funders and a venue for collaboration such as a public garden, park or museum “so we can attract diverse audiences,” weisz explains, ” Particularly in Philadelphia, arts funding has dried up. .. I looked for another way to develop funding without going through grants,” weisz said.

The new company is just one of a handful of enterprises weisz runs which include being founder/editor of http://PhiladelphiaDance.org he also runs an entertainment event company and internet company, is an adjunct professor. “It all fits together. Who needs sleep,” weisz jokes as he downs the rest of his cappuccino and dashes off.

Graffito Works performs in Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philadelphia June 14 and upcoming performances at Grounds for Sculpture and The James Mitchener Art Museum.


09 Jun

TICKET – Expect the unexpected with Graffito Works


Anything can happen when you’re improvising. That’s the thrill of being in the moment and reacting to your surroundings and those around you. And that’s the way a new dance project aims to entertain. With Graffito Works (meaning little scribbles of movement), the only thing audiences can expect is the unexpected.

Steven Weisz, founder of PhiladelphiaDANCE.org, has produced dance projects around the world and now launches Graffito Works. It began in early June with a performance at Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey. The next event will be June 14 at Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philadelphia.

This project is unique because it’s not a company, but a dance platform. Weisz works with museums, gardens, and public spaces with built-in audiences, obtains funds from corporate donors, and then the dancers perform mostly improvisational works inspired by the settings in which they’re dancing.

“Graffito Works offers dancers and performing artists an opportunity to create site-specific work and to make it readily accessible to the public,” he said. “Work is created in non-traditional spaces, challenging artists to push the boundaries of their craft, while making their work relevant and accessible to a wider audience.”

The project goes international this summer and fall with trips to Italy and Toronto, Canada. Weisz said there will be a performance in September at Doylestown’s Michener Art Museum. In the meantime, at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, the dancers will create improvised movement examining the textural nuances in nature, along with the resonance body landscapes that can be created in tune with the natural surroundings, organizers say.

“It’s an environmental experience,” Weisz said. “Audiences are watching bodies moving through a space through a given time.”

It makes the audience part of the action.

“They are part of the scene and move with us,” he said. “It’s a different kind of experience, a transient moment in time.”

Weisz hopes to create more exposure and interest in dance, he said. He’s a big fan and producer of the art form (since the early 1970s). He believes that dance cuts across all boundaries.

“It’s music. It’s movement. It’s theater. It’s environment,” he said. “It’s a language in and of itself. No matter what country I’ve visited, it’s a universal language. It’s a way to share each other’s culture and appreciate each other’s craft.”
Jung Woong Kim will set the structure and tone for the June 14 performance and perform with the dancers.

“What is interesting is that we are all part of the Philadelphia dance community and we have many things in common,” he said. “We know each other, but haven’t had a chance for dancing together as a group since everyone does their independent work.”
He enjoys improvisation.

“It’s a way to bring forward our nature without being afraid,” he said. “By working in a group, we help each other be more present and trust the moment, ourselves, and our decisions.”

Plus, improvisation helps them “connect with patterns of relationship between sound and movement, people to people, dancers to nature, and architecture,” he said. “It is all there waiting to be discovered and explored again.”

For dancer Zornitsa Stoyanova, who’s originally from Sofia, Bulgaria, Graffito Works lets her dance with others she hasn’t before. She gets to know people from around the world, which creates a rich experience of exchange and knowledge, she said. And she loves improvisation.

“Choreography to me is dull, cutting away the possibilities for communication and connection. Improvisation is real life, here and right now,” she said. “My goal is to create resonance, connectedness, and communication between the space, myself, and the viewer.”

And though technique can be important for a dancer, it’s not the only thing.

“For me, dance is movement and the possibility of expression,” Stoyanova said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think that technique is beneficial, but it’s just one of the many possibilities of expression. For me, dance could be in every and any movement.”

She thinks a product, an end result, shouldn’t always be the goal.

“I think in our society obsessed with productivity, it’s incredibly important to move without the goal of producing something,” she said. “It’s important to move with oneself, tuning into your body, and finding freedom and joy.”

Weisz hopes audiences will find joy or at least a fun and entertaining event at these new experiences through Graffito Works. Like all of the arts, “it’s something that cuts across cultural boundaries,” he said, “and that can bring people together.”


What: Graffito Works Improvisational Dance Performance
When: 2 p.m. June 14
Where: Shofuso Japanese House and Garden, Horticultural and Lansdowne Drives, Philadelphia.
Admission: Included with venue admission, check www.japanesehouse.org.
Info.: Visit www.graffitoworks.com